The Reel Thing

Recently I was contacted by an experienced TV presenter, wondering why his showreel was neither helping him to gain momentum nor open doors. Beautifully shot and edited, the reel included a range of professionally presented items in too many genres. A triumph of style over content, the pieces to camera lacked originality as the generic scripts, written by the showreel production team, failed to convince.

It isn’t necessary to spend a fortune on a glossy product to make a reel that stands out. Your talent will leap out of the screen even if shot on a phone. Content is the key. Write scripts yourself, based on your passions, interests and expertise; self shoot and edit, or skill swap to create some video footage. Presenting is about being yourself, so engage with the viewer by making a reel with your fingerprint.

Agents and broadcasters frequently state that mobile phone showreels are acceptable because they are looking for potential. So, worry less about the finished product and spend more time thinking about the ideas. I have viewed dozens of ‘sausage factory’ reels that were so superficial or derivative they didn’t leave an impression; I can count on one hand the reels that were exciting – even if the sound wasn’t perfect – they were the reel thing.

 

Strictly Success

Joanne Clifton & Kathryn Wolfe, April 2015As a tutor it’s so rewarding when one of your students achieves success, and it has just been revealed that the multi talented Joanne Clifton is to join the presenting team of BBC’s It Takes Two. Joanne, World Champion Ballroom dancer and pro-dancer on Strictly Come Dancing will be a regular dance expert on the Strictly chat show this Autumn, as well as performing in the Strictly series.

When Joanne attended my course Get into TV Presenting at The Actors Centre last summer she was clearly a bundle of talent. She was training in acting, singing and presenting after achieving World class in dancing, aiming to launch herself in a new direction. Appearing on Strictly last year, along with her brother, ‘Kevin from Grimsby’, it was quickly apparent that Joanne could present as well as dance – she was discovered!

TV Presenting is an extension of your own personality, it shouldn’t be fake or an acting performance. You need to confidently talk to the camera, to engage with the viewer. The skills can be taught quickly, and then it’s practise. Joanne’s dance background meant she could connect with the audience, and she combined this with her cheeky personality and sense of humour.

The 2-day course taught Joanne the basic presenting skills of talking to camera, speaking to time, interviewing, being interviewed, walking and talking, vox pops and reading Autocue. Almost immediately Joanne found herself being interviewed for Channel 4, and she performed brilliantly.

Feeling that TV presenting could be her new career Joanne followed up her initial training with personal coaching with me, and is now confident enough to hold her own on mainstream BBC. It all started with a weekend course. Who knows where it will end?

There’s plenty more info on my website and in my books, The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook published by Focal Press, and So You Want to be a TV Presenter? published by Nick Hern Books.

 

TV Presenting Skills Check

TV presenting is a skills-based profession, you will need to prove to your agent, director or producer that you can do it! Your aim is to show employers that you have the skills and personality to handle whatever is asked of you in an audition or screen test. Below are some basic presenter skills that you will need:

Be yourself
Presenting is about being you, it is not acting, or pretending to be a presenter. You should not ‘be in character’ as when acting, but have the confidence to be yourself.

Talk to the camera
Reach your audience through the camera lens, so engage with the viewer by speaking conversationally to the camera.

Perform for video
There is no need to use larger than life expressions or project your voice as the camera and mic will pick it all up – it’s about performing for a screen, which is not the same as public speaking or performing on stage.

Speak to one person
It can be off-putting talking to a camera and trying to make it seem natural, so most presenters imagine the camera is their best friend or one typical viewer.

Relax and smile
Talk to the camera lens without getting a tense face, keep relaxed, smile, and breathe!

Good posture
Good posture gives authority and allows you to take in more air when breathing, which in turn leads to relaxation.

Clear diction
A presenter’s toolbox includes good vocal technique and clear diction. If you are watching a presenter on TV try closing your eyes and see if you enjoy listening to them too.

Ad lib
Presenters need to be able to ad lib (talk off the cuff, not scripted). You may need to fill if the guest is running late or there’s a technical delay, or answer unscripted questions on a live show.

Talking to time
Speaking accurately to time is a skill that’s used particularly on live shows, but you may also need to talk to time in pre-recorded programmes to reduce the amount of editing. The general rule for calculating broadcasted speech is three words a second, so a ten second script has about thirty words and a twenty second script has about sixty words.

Scripting style
TV scripts should be written in a conversational manner, as it’s a spoken medium. Try reading a corporate brochure aloud – would it work on TV? No, it’s a different style.

Memorising scripts
You will need to be able to remember scripts and repeat them accurately (or near enough!)

Working with a prompter
The trick with reading from a prompter is to speak to the viewer, not read to them. Remember the camera is behind the words, so look through the words to the lens.

Walking and talking
Walking and talking – it doesn’t sound too tricky to do both at once – but it’s funny how some presenters forget how to walk normally because they are busy concentrating on talking, or vice-versa!

Vox pops
Vox pops can feature in TV or radio, (also popular for show reels) and it requires the presenter/reporter to approach members of the public to get a quick straw pole reaction to an issue.

Interviewing
Central to being a good interviewer are the skills of research and listening. Although you do not need to be a qualified journalist to present (unless it’s News), some journalistic approaches are needed in interviewing.

The demo
If you want to work in shopping channels then your essential skill is the demo, or demo combined with an interview. Demo (short for demonstration) means showing how a piece of household, technical or sports equipment works, or selling jewellery, cosmetics, fashion or other products.

The make
Makes – ‘Here is one I made earlier’ are found in children’s and arts and crafts programmes. Try it out first, prepare!

Appearance
Finally, don’t forget personal grooming. What do your clothes, hair, make-up say about you? Are you projecting the image you’d like to?

To do list
Research TV presenter training courses
Start training or top up existing skills
Watch TV – analyse TV presenter skills and performance
Attend TV recordings

Edited extract from The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook by Kathryn Wolfe, published by Focal Press 2015

Do You Have the Right Personality for TV Presenting?

Whilst TV presenting is perceived as a glamorous profession, the reality is somewhat different. Of course, being in the industry has fantastic moments, from being on the red carpet to interviewing high profile guests in fabulous locations, but the reality is that TV presenting requires a huge amount of energy, commitment and preparation. Do you have the right personality to cope with the rigours of the job?

Start by thinking about you. Consider your character, temperament and qualities. Recognise your strengths and weaknesses. Try to evaluate objectively how you come across and realise how others see you.

One of the first questions I ask presenting students is, ‘Why do you want to be a TV presenter?’ This is not a trick question, it could come up in a job interview in almost any field – (celebrity, glamour, wealth are probably not the right answers here!).

What motivates you to present? It could be that you want to communicate to a larger audience, you enjoy interviewing and finding out about other people, there is an issue you want to promote, you have role models who are TV presenters, or you want more variety and challenge in the workplace. It might be that you are already writing, producing or broadcasting, in TV, radio, print or online, and you want to be more mainstream or high profile. Alternatively, you could be someone who has watched from the sidelines or from your sofa, and you’ve been thinking – ‘I could do that!’

Most TV presenters are freelance and motivation is a key quality to possess, so ask yourself if you really have the personality to go for it – it is a competitive business, and you will need to convince others that you’re really keen and committed.

Are you a self-starter, happy to contact people you don’t know and ask them to employ you? Do you enjoy meeting new people, would you be able to work alongside a myriad of different colleagues and technicians?

Do you display initiative or do you prefer to be given instructions at each stage? Do you work well in a team or do you like to work independently? Are you persistent and tenacious or do you give up at the first round? Are you fairly thick-skinned or do you take rejection personally?

Can you think on your feet? How well would you cope if the top news story were replaced as you are live on air reading from a different script? You can train for breaking news, so don’t panic, but it is worth bearing in mind that some people can work better under pressure than others.

Are you good at researching a topic, becoming an instant ‘expert’ in a wide variety of discussion points to put to the viewer or interviewee? Can you digest technical information and deliver it to the viewer in easy bite-sized chunks? Are you confident, with a friendly manner, do you possess good communications skills? How is your personal grooming!

Be honest with yourself and take a cold hard look at whether you’re in the right place. Take advantage of online personality tests – they can be very revealing, with questionnaires that can help you to assess your qualities and priorities.

To do list
List your strengths and weaknesses
Evaluate presenter qualities and match them to your own
Analyse your personal motivation and abilities
Explore online personality tests

Click, read, discover
Online personality tests & career advice
https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/tools/skillshealthcheck/Pages/default.aspx
http://www.profilingforsuccess.com/profile-yourself.php
http://prospects.ac.uk

Interview advice
http://careers.theguardian.com/careers-blog/star-technique-competency-based-interview

US
http://career-advice.monster.com/
http://www.careercc.org/

Edited extract from The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook by Kathryn Wolfe
Published by Focal Press 2015

Wardrobe Wise

Here’s a tip for the day!

Recently a presenter I know nearly came unstuck before a live TV broadcast because of her dress choice. Wisely she had brought two choices of costume to the studio, a stunning bright purple fitted summer dress and a silk multi-patterned shift dress – both absolutely lovely outfits. This is the right thing to do, bring along an alternative in case one choice doesn’t look good on camera.

Unfortunately the presenter had not been told about the colours used in the studio set – her presenting chair was bright purple, and exactly the same tone as her dress. When she tried sitting on the chair it looked like she and the chair were morphed into one block of colour, and there was no separation between them.

Professionally she went to the dressing room, changed her costume and put on the multi-coloured silk version – only to find the patterned design was too much and it didn’t look good on camera. The other concern was that as the show was to be broadcast online the dress might not work on different computer screens.

With the live transmission only minutes away she had to present the show in the dress she had worn to travel to the studio. It was a more casual style, and still looked good on camera, but the presenter didn’t feel she looked her best. A less professional presenter might have let this affect her performance, not so in this case.

However, if you want to avoid getting into a similar situation, ask the production team what colours are used in the set and studio furniture, and avoid busy patterns which can interfere with the video signal on some types of cameras.

5 top tips for your TV presenting career

It’s been a while – I’ve been busy writing my second book – and I’m thrilled to say it’s just been published! The TV Presenter’s Career Handbook by Focal Press is out now. It’s packed full with advice and interviews with TV presenters, agents and TV producers on how to carve a TV presenting career. Here are my 5 top tips.

Be yourself

You are unique so don’t try to copy other presenters. Create your own showreel material with content that shows your own personality and style. Producers want to find new talent, not poor versions of existing personalities.

Use your expertise

Do you have specialised knowledge or qualifications? Whether it’s finance or cookery, music or sport, interior decoration or wine tasting your expertise can open doors. Be the guest expert, the interviewee or presenter who has credibility in a subject and you’ll more employable.

Take control

No need to wait for job adverts, start presenting. Upload to YouTube, be the face of the company you work for, or add videos to your website. As camera equipment and editing software becomes less expensive and more accessible it’s easier than ever before to start presenting from home.

Create a digital footprint

Use social media but have something to say. Join sites that promote your skills, be visible and contactable. Seek opportunities to raise your profile, you can be the interviewee not necessarily the presenter and still make a splash. Producers are increasingly searching online to find new faces.

Get some professional training

There are plenty of short courses out there, and a few Universities teach TV Presenting. Find out what the industry expectations are by training with experts. Go for the courses that really teach you the skills.

Leap Tweets

As promised, although a bit late, here is a list of my 29 top tips for February 2012:

Tip 1 Rewrite CV include broadcasting, TV, radio, print, live hosting, scripting, think presenter not actor, no need for shoe or hat size!

Tip 2 Refresh your training: in many professions continuing professional development is routine. Should you check your presenter skills?

Tip 3 Personal grooming – think HD, widescreen, LED, home cinema – avoid embarrassing close ups, check hair, make up and nails

Tip 4 Invest in a video camera & tripod – practise talking to camera, record/edit showtape items, take control of your reel

Tip 5 Research presenting agents listed in Contacts, check their websites, who they represent and if they may suit you. Then, contact them!

Tip 6 Presenter photos should be professional, colour, with personality and warmth, not b/w or holiday snaps. See Spotlight Presenters

Tip 7 Free training – Apply for free tickets online to be in a studio audience and watch TV presenters at work

Tip 8 List your areas of expertise, what makes you different, what can you offer the presenting industry what’s your usp, presenting is you!

Tip 9 Research local TV stations, community TV, volunteer to present items, so much is happening locally, get involved, start broadcasting!

Tip 10 Read ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’ packed with expert advice, tips, self-training, sample CVs, job seeking and showreel advice

Tip 11 Spotlight Presenters http://www.spotlight.com for membership, job info & advice. Emerging Talent section is really useful for newcomers.

Tip 12 Create a channel of your work – one of my former students Helen Hokin has done this brilliantly – see www.foodtripper.com/tv

Tip 13 Promote yourself as an interviewee, it’s a short hop from successful guest to presenter. Are you an expert? See
www.findatvexpert.com

Tip 14 Practise tongue twisters to improve diction and warm up facial muscles, free sites online – red leather, yellow leather ….

Tip 15 Update your technical skills for website, video clips and marketing, have a look at www.moonfruit.com

Tip 16 Can you ad lib for 2 mins or speak to time finishing just before zero? Set your stopwatch to find out & start talking to yourself ….

Tip 17 Listen to this excellent advice on TV Presenting from BBC College of Production CoP Show: TV presenting www.bbc.in/xqsUga

Tip 18 To practise reading from a prompt see http://www.cueprompter.com type in your script, set the speed and read from your screen

Tip 19 How multi-skilled are you? If you watch TV/work on laptop/when on a mobile you can talk to camera while listening to in-ear talkback…

Tip 19 cont’d …To practise talking to time, record a countdown and listen through your headphones whilst talking to camera.

Tip 20 Spotlight’s Emerging Talent section at the back of the Presenters book showcases new, up-and-coming presenters. Contact @SpotlightUK

Tip 21 Writing the perfect CV http://bbc.in/mZLptI – was going to tweet about HD make up as it’s pancake day, but here’s a CV tip instead

Tip 22 Continuing the CV theme www.prospects.ac.uk/example_cvs.htm

Tip 23 Can you memorise a 40 second script? Not every shoot will have a prompting device eg autocue, especially on location. Aim for 1 take!

Tip 24 Your showreel should be unique to you, shoot items you are enthusiastic about, show your expertise, write your own material, be you!

Tip 25 Max showreel duration 3-4 mins or a bit less, think BGT, impress in the first 30 secs or the rest of it may not be viewed

Tip 26 Three tips for an interviewer – listen, listen and listen.

Tip 27 To train as a weather forecaster see www.metoffice.gov.uk/about-us/recruitment/options/forecasting

Tip 28 If TV presenting is your career invest in your own professional moulded ear piece nickway.co.uk/earpieces/moulded

Tip 29 And finally … found an extra day in your calendar today? Read ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’ publ by Nick Hern Books

Reading from a prompt

A couple of lucky presenters I’m training at the moment are working in TV production and able to practise reading from a prompt as part of their work experience. However, most presenters are expected to know how to read from a prompt before the audition or job. The screen test is not the place to reveal that you have never done this before, and time is too precious on a shoot to receive on the spot training.

What is a prompt? It is a device that scrolls the script in front of the camera lens enabling the presenter to read rather than having to memorise the words. When the camera is placed behind the prompt and the presenter’s eyeline is direct to the lens it should not look any different to presenting without a prompt. The words are visible on a screen that the presenter can see but the viewer cannot. Mrs Smith watching at home shouldn’t realise you are using a prompt, so allow your delivery to be as natural as possible. Whether the screen is a few feet or 30 feet away from you, if you have small head movements and are relating to the viewer they won’t be aware of your eyes scanning the words.

Prompting screens can also be mounted above the camera, usually during location shoots, or on a moving camera; this does not give such a direct eyeline from the presenter to the viewer, but with the right shot the viewer may not notice the difference.

Although prompts are often referred to as Autocue there are other companies that provide prompting equipment, such as Autoscript, Portaprompt and First-Take. Prompts can fit almost any size of camera from small semi-professional to large TV studio cameras. Screen sizes range from mini 3.5”, 5.6”, 8” or 9” screens for location use to typical studio screen sizes of 12”, 15”, 17”, 19” to huge, such as on ITV’s ‘Dancing on Ice’ where the studio is the size of a small aircraft hangar!  Recent updates include bright LED screens, PC and Mac versions, and even a spell-check variety.

Presenters unfamiliar with using a prompt often worry that it will go too fast for them to read comfortably. That shouldn’t happen – the prompt operator has to follow your reading.  So if you find the prompt is going too quickly what should you do – speed up to match the pace or slow down? Think about it!

Alternatively you may find that you are the controller – using a handheld wireless remote or a foot pedal under the presenting desk. The latest technology is voice activated, no foot or hand controls, with the prompt following the spoken word of the presenter.

How can you practise at home without access to a prompting screen? A basic exercise is to read aloud. We normally read in our heads but by reading aloud you can develop your sight-reading, voice and breathing techniques. When you see a comma, pause, when you see a full stop – stop! Don’t forget to breathe! Have a good reservoir of breath by using your abdomen. Find a balance between a pace that the viewer can follow, while keeping up a good energy.

There is a great resource www.cueprompter.com – a free online teleprompter. You can type in or copy and paste some written material into the window, set the scroll speed and start to read from a moving script! It has a maximum of 2000 characters and it’s fun to experiment with the different speed settings. You could record yourself using a webcam, which although not directly in your eyeline, will give you an idea of how you look and sound when reading.

One common pitfall is that the expression can become ‘frozen’ and the eyes can look ‘glazed’. Do your best to relax the face and eyes, maintaining a conversational delivery. Read with interest, using good modulation and intonation.

Prompting software has a range of font sizes, inverse, underline, bold, italic, different foreground/background colours, so if you are short-sighted and your co-presenter is long-sighted or even dyslexic, the script appearance can be tailored to your preferences. Some presenters write words phonetically to aid pronunciation, or use capitals for emphasis. When writing scripts for a prompt keep them simple, especially as the entire sentence may not be visible at once on the prompting screen.

You can customise your script to assist your performance. As a Director I added helpful instructions to the prompt, such as ‘Turn to camera 3’ – you could include a note to self, for example, ‘Breathe’, ‘Pause’, ‘Smile!’

If you want to take it further you could explore various prompting websites to familiarise yourself with the equipment. Perhaps you could get together with like-minded friends/presenters and hire the kit for half a day, which would cost in the region of £225 including all prompting equipment and an operator. Prices vary, and check whether travel and VAT are included.

Putting all technology aside for a moment, the main aim is to be a winning presenter, so look through the words to the lens behind the prompt. Remember Mrs. Smith? She wants to feel that you are talking to her, not reading to her, and that is the key to reading from a prompt successfully.

You read it here first!

In ear talk back

Advice from Kathryn Wolfe, Course Leader TV Production, Senior Lecturer Media Performance University of Bedfordshire, Pukka Presenting trainer and author ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’

One of the many enquiries I received recently was on the topic of in-ear talkback. Using in-ear talkback initially can seem like you are hearing voices in your head and if you are recording a screen test using it for the first time your performance can suffer – that was the experience of this particular presenter who was not familiar with in-ear talkback and didn’t know what to expect.

In-ear talkback is a device that enables Producers/Directors/Production Assistants to talk directly to the presenter, to inform them about editorial issues, camera directions and timings. It can be used in the studio or on location. Although some information can go via a Floor Manager, not all recorded situations use a Floor Manager nowadays; whereas some commands such as timings can be delivered visually, other more complex instructions such as ‘When did the private papers go missing?’ or ‘How long is the battery life of this product?’ are better conveyed straight to the presenter.

Talkback consists of a silicon or foam bud that sits just inside the left or right ear, attached to a curly or straight acoustic tube that goes around and behind the ear, then down the back of the neck. There is an optional collar clip to hold the cable in place, and hair/clothing can be used to hide the kit as much as possible. You can adjust the volume of the speech coming through the earpiece, so it’s a good idea to check this before you are on air!

Working with talkback is a case of getting used to talking while listening to instructions, without revealing to the viewer that you are hearing information from someone else who is out of vision. It’s not as hard as it sounds. Think of all the occasions when you are multi-tasking without problem. Do you work on the laptop while watching TV, conducting a conversation and eating a snack? Have you had a chat on the phone while listening to a speech radio programme?

It is unlikely that you will be able to practise using talkback equipment unless in a professional TV environment, but you can prepare for the situation. Perform a script to a camera and ask a friend with a stopwatch to give you verbal timings, such as “30 seconds left on show”, and they should count down the time, saying “20 seconds, 15 seconds, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0”. When they say “zero” you should have stopped talking! Check your recording back to see if your facial expressions revealed that you were receiving instructions. Did you falter or fluff, aquire a furrowed brow, look distracted, or did you carry on performing without making it known to the viewer?

You could purchase some inexpensive ear buds of your own to take to jobs, see http://www.enhancedlistening.co.uk or http://www.canford.co.uk

If you want to go that step further, it is possible to obtain moulded earpieces custom made to fit your own ears – less likely to be visible or, worse still, to fall out at a crucial moment! See http://presenterpromotions.com/services/earpieces/earpieces.html or http://nickway.co.uk

Remember, you heard it here first.

Once a children’s TV presenter, always a children’s TV presenter?

Advice from Kathryn Wolfe, Course Leader TV Production, Senior Lecturer Media Performance University of Bedfordshire, Pukka Presenting trainer and author ‘So You Want to be a TV Presenter?’

I received an enquiry this week from a presenter asking if she pursued her love of children’s TV presenting would she always be labelled as a children’s presenter? As a director on many children’s TV programmes, including Tweenies, Teletubbies, Record Breakers, Jackanory and Playschool, I’ve worked with many of our best loved children’s presenters. Some spend a long career in children’s programmes, some pass through, and like Phillip Schofield, leave the ‘broom cupboard’ behind them ….

Holly Willoughby

Fearne Cotton

Andi Peters

Ortis Deley

Jake Humphrey

Chris Tarrant

Konnie Huq

Matt Baker

Becky Jago

Noel Edmonds

John Craven

Maggie Philbin

You can try being a children’s TV presenter for a day.  See Children’s TV Presenting Course, City Lit, Sunday 17th October 2010.